Voters cast their ballots at the St. Louis County Board of Elections office on November 3. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
March 16 (UPI) -- Iran and Russia attempted to interfere in the United States' 2020 presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials said in a new report released Tuesday.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Russian President Vladimir Putin approved operations to attempt to harm President Joe Biden's candidacy and bolster former President Donald Trump's re-election efforts.
Iran, on the other hand, attempted to denigrate Trump's campaign "without directly promoting his rivals" by undermining public confidence in the U.S. elections processes and institutions.
"Foreign malign influence is an enduring challenge facing our country," Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said. "These efforts by U.S. adversaries seek to exacerbate divisions and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions.
"Addressing this ongoing challenge requires a whole-of-government approach grounded in an accurate understanding of the problem, which the intelligence community, through assessments such as this one, endeavors to provide."
In the lead-up to the November elections, intelligence officials warned China may be joining Russian and Iranian efforts to interfere in U.S. democracy, but the ODNI report said China stayed out of the election.
"China sought stability in its relationship with the United States, did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk getting caught meddling," the report said.
The report released Tuesday is a declassified version of one provided to Trump, senior Executive Branch officials and Congressional leadership and intelligence oversight committees on Jan. 7, it said.
The Justice and Homeland Security Departments released their own joint report on Tuesday that broadly confirmed the ODNI report's findings, stating they have no evidence that foreign governments "prevented voting, changed votes or disrupted the ability to tally votes or to transmit election results in a timely manner."
It said Russian and Iranian campaigns targeting critical infrastructure did compromise the security of several networks concerning election functions but they did not affect the integrity of the vote.
Russian, Chinese, and Iranian actors also impacted security networks of U.S. political organizations, candidates and campaigns but officials said in the report that it was unclear if they sought access to foreign policy information or election operations.
"Several such actors gathered at least some information they could have released in influence operations, but ultimately we did not see any such materials deployed, modified or destroyed," it said.
The report recommended continued improvements to physical and cyber security, assisting campaigns and election officials with assessing the risks posed by third-party vendors, fostering collaboration among the various levels of government and increasing the quantity and quality of public messaging and education.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the report underscores Russia's attempts to interfere in the election to support Trump and hurt Biden.
"Through proxies, Russia ran a successful intelligence operation that penetrated the former president's inner circle," he said in a statement. "Individuals close to the former president were targeted by agents of Russian intelligence, including Andriy Derkach and Konstantin Kilimnik, who laundered misinformation into our political system, with the intent of denigrating now-President Biden and damaging his candidacy."
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said it highlights the "ongoing and persistent efforts" by the United States' adversaries to influence its elections, stating Russia has expanded its efforts to do so.
"I believe that the intelligence community has gotten much better at detecting these efforts, and we have built better defenses against election interference," he said in a statement. "But the problem of foreign actors trying to influence the American electorate is not going away and, given the current partisan divides in this country, may find fertile ground in which to grow in the future."
Despite dozens of lawsuits by or on behalf of Trump seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election, intelligence and elections officials across the country have repeatedly said it was safe from interference and fraud.
The Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency in November said it was "the most secure in American history" and there was no evidence it was compromised in any way.
"While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should, too," a statement from the agency said. "When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices, as they administer elections."
The U.S. intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller said Russia attempted to interfere -- mainly through an online misinformation campaign -- in the 2016 election, but there's no evidence it succeeded in doing so.
Balloons and signs fill the fence between Black Lives Matter Plaza and Lafayette Park near the White House on Monday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo